Stop thinking like a manager and start thinking like a coach.
Iwas talking to my dad, who is also a business partner of mine, about an employee at one of our dry cleaners. She had a bad attitude.
“What do you plan to do about her?” I asked.
“Nothing really,” he said, “because we need her to run the store. She knows the business better than the others.”
“So if she quit tomorrow, would we shut down the store?”
My dad chuckled and said, “Heck, no.” He then mentioned that when she called, he cringed at seeing her number. He didn’t like going to visit the store when she was there because it was such a “beatdown” (that’s Texan for “misery”).
“Dad, if you can’t stand this person because she has a bad attitude, and you are the boss, imagine what her coworkers think or, even worse, our clients.”
Like too many business owners and leaders, my dad was avoiding dealing with this person for all the wrong reasons. He said he had talked to her about her attitude and had even written her up for it. What he really needed to do was deal with her once and for all, but he never took that final step because he still believed he needed her. I encouraged him to have one last meeting with her to make her immediately change her attitude or know we would immediately take the steps to terminate her. He finally did, and the employee decided she would be a better fit outside the organization. Did the store close as she left, taking all our dry cleaner experience with her? Of course not. The store stayed open, my father put in place a new manager with the right attitude, and business improved—both outside and inside. In fact, several employees and clients came to my father soon after and said, “Finally! What took you so long?”
In not dealing with this bad employee, my father, like so many business leaders, violated two of the five essential coaching principles that demonstrate two of the crucial differences between managing and coaching: No individual is more important than the team, and never avoid conflict. Then again, most businesses and their leaders, especially when things aren’t going poorly, don’t deal with problems like these or any others that may lurk below the surface. The expression “high water covers all rocks” comes to mind. But when things get rough—when the water recedes and the rocks appear—most leaders have little idea how to act effectively, pull their people together, and coach them as a team to perform better. They work in management cultures where leading means stepping back and letting people do their jobs, for better or worse. No need to rock the boat now. It will be high tide again soon, right? Maybe not.
This is a major reason I call the management-culture mentality fundamentally corrupt. Hire good people and let them do their jobs? That’s a line handed down from outdated business books more than a generation old. Leaders today need to get involved and coach their teams to success, rather than manage them to mediocrity. Today’s business isn’t so much about today’s economy as it is about today’s leadership: Who is taking responsibility to actually lead? Technology and the competition move faster than ever before, and leaders need to implement a system for improvement and challenge their teams to compete at the speed of business today. Simply managing people and relying on them to develop themselves is not enough anymore. I’m not saying those management cultures were wrong for yesterday’s business or that they can’t work today; they just don’t give leaders the best chance to succeed the way coaching cultures do. Yet most leaders don’t understand what it means to coach, the differences between managing and coaching, or before all that, what it means to be a great leader.
The Characteristics of Great Leaders
Great leaders are ethical, compassionate, and humble. They are great students and constantly strive to learn more. They are empathetic but not sympathetic, show resolve in the toughest times, and believe they can get something out of everybody, never dismissing anyone outright. Great leaders are strong and decisive without being arrogant. They never use fear to make the team fall in line, or use bravado to compensate for a fear of being vulnerable. Instead, they use vulnerability and humility to gain respect while still exuding confidence.
Great leaders always believe in themselves and their teams—that’s how they get the teams’ individual members to sacrifice for the good of those teams. The teams know these leaders make them better and thus strive to please them. As a result, great leaders have a loyal—even blind—followership. In short, their teams love and trust them and their vision. But the ability to create a vision alone does not make a great leader—the ability to have it, communicate it, and get people to act on it does. When companies want people to communicate their visions or missions, they put them on cards, coffee mugs, posters, and newsletters. Great leaders know that stuff goes only so far. They know they must get their teams to do more than read those words. They must get them to believe in those words and make them part of the team’s everyday vocabulary without ever thinking about it.
Great Leaders versus Great Coaches
The differences between great leaders and great leaders who are coaches lie in their activities and actions. Leaders who don’t do the proactive activities and actions of coaching covered in Part Two of this book are not coaches. Leaders who choose to sit back and develop their people through reactive management activities designed to maintain the status quo are not coaching. They may have the potential to be a coach but not if they continue to sit back, refuse to get more deeply and proactively involved with their people, and say things like “My employees don’t want me telling them how to do their job, and I don’t want to do that!” Unfortunately, this line is just one of the excuses leaders make for not taking the time to coach.
For the record, leaders who are coaches are more engaged with their teams, but they are not always in their employees’ faces, getting in the way for the sake of getting involved and micromanaging everything all the time (although micromanaging is a coaching tool and can be approached positively, as we will see later on). Coaches just don’t fear involvement as they make sure employees doing their “thing” are aligned with the team’s “thing.” Yet understanding this and saying you’re ready to learn and implement the skills necessary to coach won’t mean much if you don’t understand the differences between managing and coaching. Turning managers into coaches begins not with action and activities but with accepting the fundamental differences between managing and coaching.
The Five Crucial Ways Managing Differs from Coaching
Now let’s translate these differences into the five essential principles of coaching every coach must follow.
The Five Essential Principles of Coaching
Every one of these principles informs the coaching activity chapters in Part Two of this book. Skill practice, making tough decisions, rewards and recognitions, building your bench, game plans, setting goals, peer presentations . . . all of them require coaches to appreciate the importance of these principles. So let’s take the time to discuss them in a little more depth, especially the first one, which will be the biggest shock for most leaders who are managers.
Coaching Principle #1
Make the team more important than any individual
Think about those star athletes who were or are great players but have bad attitudes that alienate their teammates, coaches, owners, and fans. Their talent may be undeniable, but so is their unlikability. They put themselves above everyone, and despite putting up some big numbers and occasionally playing in championship games, they rarely lead their teams to the ultimate victory. Most of these players, despite their God-given talent and gaudy stats, eventually destroy the team’s chemistry, and unless bound by a long-term contract their teams now regret, those teams release them, again and again. Sure, they usually sign somewhere else. Other teams and coaches try to work with them, thinking the results they generate may offset any personal problems. Maybe these players mature. Maybe they find the coaches who can turn them around. But usually those players aren’t about contributing to the success of anyone but himself or herself and are eventually let go again.
In business, we have the same superstars with good results and bad attitudes. Problem is, we don’t usually fire people like that or even confront them; we leave them alone. Even when their results decline a bit. Even when the team can’t stand them. Even when we can’t stand them. We isolate them so they can “do their job” and not annoy the team. We effectively say to them, “Hey, you don’t play very well with others, but you make me money, so I’m going to let you do your thing, keep you away from the team, and not push you to do anything outside your comfort zone. Carry on!” A lot of times, we actually try to give these people more responsibility as a “reward.” That’s like rewarding an irresponsible child: My kid keeps slacking on his responsibilities, so I’m going to teach him how to be responsible by letting him babysit his little sister. Not a good plan.